The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly struck a blow to the global economy. However, experts and scholars are still divided on how the global economy will recover in the post-pandemic era. Some experts believe that the influence of the pandemic will be here for not only one or two years, but will exist for a long time, while others think that as places around the world continue to take measures to find a way out, they will definitely deliver possibilities for the creation of new thoughts and solutions. However, almost all experts believe that times have changed, and a new order is about to be established.
As a matter of fact, the pandemic has forced countries to close their borders with neighboring countries, and has made them rethink and reconstruct their domestic industrial structures. In order to keep up with rising demand and given the limited availability of channels for the purchase of key commodities, a large number of countries have started readjusting their domestic markets and enlarging domestic production to supply their own people with basic commodities, including masks, medical gloves, disinfectants, sanitizers, and cleaning soap, as well as pharmaceuticals used for treatment purposes that are not easy to manufacture and are badly needed. In the meantime, a number of countries have built infectious disease hospitals. Countries which used to believe that borders were unnecessary in the era of globalization suddenly saw a severe cutoff in inbound foreign capital, and even encountered difficulties in accessing important commodities and advanced technologies. Countries relying heavily on the tourism industry were most severely affected by the pandemic, having faced drastic cutbacks to their financial budgets. Is globalization going to be a thing of the past? Some people doubt this. One thing which is obvious is that time will always move forward and the pandemic will sooner or later be conquered. Even in the worst-case scenario, which is a situation where the pandemic continues to last for a very long time, people will eventually learn to live with the pandemic. Therefore, the priority for us at this moment is to get ready for the post-pandemic era.
Speaking of boundaries, I think integration is, by all means, the best way out for Central Asia and even Eurasia as a whole. Obviously, without regional integration, there will be no development or prosperity. From this perspective, Kazakhstan enjoys an exceptional geographic advantage in being a landlocked country with vast grasslands and bordering both China and Russia, both being two major countries. Therefore, to strengthen economic ties with China is an inevitable choice for Kazakhstan. It is necessary to mention China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as this large-scale global strategy not only concerns the region but also Europe and all maritime nations at large. It must be pointed out that the BRI involves over 130 countries and about 30 international organizations, connecting more than 60 countries from Central Asia, Europe and Africa with new transportation corridors. Neglecting this opportunity will be a huge mistake. That’s why the Kazakh government put forward an official plan, called Nurly Zhol (Bright Path), to integrate with the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt.
In light of the current situation, the Kazakh side is following closely how the Chinese side will adjust the BRI according to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seriously impacted the global economy and exchanges between countries, has had varying influences on the BRI and the implementation of relevant projects. But on the other hand, we have also noticed that the BRI, a colossal world-wide program, is trying to prove that it is a stable and sustainable economic mechanism that is able to counteract the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Official statistics say that as much as 60 percent of Belt and Road projects have been impacted by the pandemic to some degree. According to Wang Xiaolong, Director-General of the Department of International Economic Affairs of China’s Foreign Ministry, 20 percent of projects under the BRI have been “seriously affected” by the COVID-19 pandemic, while 40 percent of projects have been affected to a certain degree, and another 40 percent have been unaffected and are being implemented as scheduled. China has also shown a keen interest in long-term cross-border projects, and intends to further invest in them. Statistics show that in the first quarter of 2020, China’s investments in countries participating in the BRI increased 11.7 percent year-on-year, and China’s trade volume with participating countries increased 3.2 percent, said Wang Xiaolong.
In the first four months of 2020, the freight transport volume between China and Europe, including two-way as well as freight transport volumes that are mainly transported via railway, increased 24 percent, a year-on-year increase of 27 percent. All these figures show the vitality of the BRI.
But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, how will the Chinese side kick start a renewed impetus for the BRI projects along with its cooperation partners?
With regard to this question, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that COVID-19 has affected Belt and Road cooperation to some extent, but the impact is temporary and limited. From an overall and long-term perspective, COVID-19 will only strengthen and re-energize Belt and Road cooperation and open up new possibilities.
Wang Yi said, over the past seven years, China has signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with 138 countries. More than 2,000 projects have been launched and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created in partner countries. China's trade in goods with Belt and Road partner countries has exceeded 7.8 trillion US dollars, and direct Chinese investment in partner countries has topped 110 billion US dollars. Emerging from COVID-19, countries will have a stronger need to grow their economies and improve the lives of their peoples as well as responding to a surging demand for public health cooperation. “China will work with partner countries to advance health cooperation along the Belt and Road and convene a high-level video conference to better protect people's health and safety in partner countries. China will also advance the Digital Belt and Road to create new engines of growth for partner countries and a new impetus for global recovery,” said Wang Yi.
China is as confident and determined as ever to promote Belt and Road cooperation. The country will continue to follow the principle of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits, and support open, green and clean development. By aiming for high-standard and sustainable progress, China will make the Belt and Road benefit the peoples of all the countries involved, Wang Yi stressed.
He also pointed out that China expects that projects carried out within the framework of the BRI will promote cooperation and prosperity.
As we all see it, China has not announced any plans to slow down the BRI, instead it has taken vigorous efforts to carry forward the initiative. China, our neighbor, has both strength and opportunities. And what about Kazakhstan? How should we make use of this prospect? How can we benefit from the BRI?
As we all know, the BRI was first proposed in Kazakhstan in 2013. I think this attests to our important position in the initiative. In a speech he delivered at Nazarbayev University in the city of Nur-Sultan (then Astana) in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building a Silk Road Economic Belt. To some extent, this shows that China regards Kazakhstan as a reliable partner in implementing the BRI within Eurasia.
In general, not only Kazakhstan but the whole of Central Asia is looking forward to a huge opportunity for development within a brand-new model. Therefore, achieving stability through common development and addressing various challenges through integration are necessary steps for Central Asian countries, which is also in line with their economic interests. China, Kazakhstan’s important neighbor, plays a significant role in the world in terms of digital transformation and economic digitalization. Considering that the rapid development of digitalization can evidently increase a nation’s competitiveness, why should we give up the opportunity offered by China?
Data from the Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy of Kazakhstan suggests that the bilateral trade volume between Kazakhstan and China reached 14.5 billion US dollars in 2019. Although the figure may have seen a slight decline at present, it will surely rise again in the future. After all, for Kazakhstan, China’s market is always filled with opportunities. In the current context, where the whole of society is paying greater attention to personal health and wellness, local products from Kazakhstan that meet the standards for green and pollution-free food are bound to gain an increasing foothold in the Chinese market. The large Chinese market that is right on our doorstep has always shown a great demand for Kazakhstan’s green food items and other products. Is this not then an enormous possibility for us? During the pandemic this year, powdered horse milk and camel milk produced in Kazakhstan quickly made their way into the Chinese market and became very popular among Chinese consumers because of their good reputation as high-quality and green food products. This demonstrates that it is necessary for Kazakhstan to enhance investment into related areas.
On Sept. 2 this year, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered his state-of-the-nation address for 2020, in which he stressed that work on attracting investments and promoting the export of Kazakh goods and services in the newly changing world is fast becoming a priority for the Government. In view of this, Kazakhstan needs to take into consideration all the possibilities ranging from healthcare to digitalization and connect them with large-scale projects like the BRI so as to promote the country’s leap-forward development in economic and environmental fields while maximizing its national interests.